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PS 90, a former public school turned condo in Harelm (Compass) PS 90, a former public school turned condo in Harelm (Compass)
Access to high-ranking schools has long dictated where New York City families choose to rent and buy homes. This largely reflects the fact that at the K-5 level, school zone (a small area of just a few blocks) is one of the only factors used to determine where one’s child can enroll. Even at the middle and high school levels, however, school district (a larger but still restricted area) continues to affect school choice. As a result, families often rent or buy in zones and districts solely or largely based on the quality of its schools. A year into the pandemic, there are signs that the longstanding link between address and school choice may be about to come undone.

Over the past year, enrollments in local public schools have declined, new admissions policies have been introduced; and, with many New York families on the move, a growing number of students are attending schools outside their zone or district. Combined, these changes are expected to permanently alter the demographics in many New York City schools, which remain among the most segregated schools in the nation. Consequently, more families may also choose to rent or buy in neighborhoods where school quality and choice has historically been low. In the long term, this could also have a profound impact on real estate markets, especially in Brooklyn and uptown Manhattan.

In this article:

Circa Central Park, 285 West 110th Street
Circa Central Park, 285 West 110th Street Harlem
145 Central Park North
145 Central Park North Harlem
325 Convent Avenue
325 Convent Avenue Hamilton Heights
Brisbane House, 1215 Fifth Avenue
Brisbane House, 1215 Fifth Avenue East Harlem
10 Lenox Avenue
10 Lenox Avenue Harlem

Trends, Pilot Programs, and Policy Changes

Public School Enrollment Declines

In late January, Gothamist reported that New York City public schools had suffered a 4 percent decline overall since the pandemic hit, with an even sharper decline of 9 percent at the kindergarten level. It isn’t clear how many of these students’ families have permanently left the city versus switched to the charter or private systems, but early data suggests that at least some of these students have switched systems. This likely reflects the fact that charter and private schools have proven better equipped to welcome students back into the classroom.

Current enrollment declines across the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) could be significant. In the past, many of the top-ranked schools, including those located in high-income neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn, have had long waiting lists and struggled to even accommodate all the children living in their zones. With enrollments now in decline, children living outside a school’s designated zone or district have a much better chance of enrolling in the system’s most coveted schools. But declining enrollments aren’t the only thing that is loosening the once-strong connection between address and school choice.

Replacing Selective Screening with a Lottery at the Middle School Level

In the past, finding a seat at a middle school, especially one of the top-ranked middle schools, was a time-consuming process. In addition to attending dozens of information sessions, many middle schools required prospective students to submit essays or portfolios, participate in interviews, and write separate admissions tests. For years, critics have argued that this onerous process favored middle- and upper-middle-class families who are more likely to have the time and resources needed to attend school information sessions and help their fifth-grade children put together competitive applications for up to ten schools.

In December, Mayor de Blasio announced plans to pilot a new approach to middle school admissions: the city eliminated all admissions screening for one year. This means that schools are no longer permitted to use attendance at information sessions, essays, portfolios, interviews, school-based admissions tests, or other metrics (e.g., grades, attendance records, and state test scores) for admissions. Instead, admissions will be based on one factor: a random lottery.
The one-year pilot is expected to have a huge impact on desegregating middle schools, especially in District 2, a large district that includes most of Manhattan’s wealthiest neighborhoods, including the West Village, Tribeca, and the Upper East Side. While the lottery system will still favor students who live within the district, replacing the demanding screening process with a lottery is expected to alter the composition of the district’s top-ranked schools. In short, schools like East Side Middle on the Upper East Side, where 62% of students are White and 16% are Asian (across the NYDOE, just 15.1% of students are White and 16.1% are Asian) may look remarkably different come September 2021.

Scrapping District Preference at the High School Level

In the past, many high schools have had something referred to a “district preference.” This preference was used to gatekeep who could attend some of the top non-specialized high schools in New York City, including Eleanor Roosevelt High School on the Upper East Side. As city data reveals, like East Side Middle, which is located just a few blocks north, the vast majority of students (81 percent) who attend Eleanor Roosevelt High School are White or Asian. Starting in the 2021 admission cycle, district preference for high schools will be abandoned. The plan, which is supported by principals and the NYDOE, is expected to have a significant impact on the demographics of schools, especially in wealthy and primarily White neighborhoods.

How Changes in Public School Choice Could Affect NYC Real Estate

Currently, families often go to considerable lengths to secure seats in a desirable school zone or district. Some families, as reported in this 2013 New York Times report, even temporarily rent in a desirable school zone or district to enroll their child in a high-preforming school. The NYDOE’s policy has generally been to let children stay enrolled in a school, even if their family later moves out of the zone or district.

With school choice becoming increasingly unmoored from one’s address, it seems likely that fewer families will feel the need to rent or buy based on school zone or district. In Manhattan, this could have a huge impact on who decides to rent and buy uptown. Currently, schools north of 96th street are in District 4, 5, or 6. While there are a few good schools across these districts, none of these districts come even close to offering the school choice found in the much wealthier District 2, which runs from 96th Street down to the tip of Manhattan (excluding the Lower East Side, which has always been a separate school district). Current changes could make moving just above 96th Street and into East Harlem or further uptown to Washington Heights or Inwood an increasingly attractive option for families. In Brooklyn, neighborhoods located outside the Park Slope axis, which is home to several highly competitive elementary and middle schools, could also see an influx of new renters and buyers.

At best, the current shake-up won’t just help desegregate schools in some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, but could also desegregate neighborhoods as more families across the income spectrum elect to live in neighborhoods regardless of whether they are already home to high-performing schools.

Beautiful Family-Sized Upper Manhattan Homes
From the Listing: This sunny and pristine contemporary two bedroom, two bath home with an open floor plan spans over 1300 square feet. Twelve-foot ceilings, oversized arched cathedral windows, wide planked herringbone wood floors and loft-like living room are some of the architectural and textural elements that are infused in this home. Extraordinary sunsets and views all the way to midtown add to the grandness and the tranquility. The modern open kitchen is ideal for entertaining and comfortable living. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: Spectacular Duplex Condo This beautiful 3-bedroom and 2.5 bathroom condo is located in the Mount Morris Park historic district of Harlem. The space is tastefully defined with a spacious living room/dining area, a renovated kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, high ceilings, and magnificent hardwood floors. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: Available for immediate occupancy, this 3 bedroom home faces west toward Strivers Row, St Nicholas Park, City College, and the George Washington Bridge. A spacious terrace, large master suite with walk-in closet and separate kitchen provide all of the conveniences of home See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: Haven. Refuge. Sanctuary. This is an apartment that will both cocoon you and wow you.This approximately 1300 SF duplex home with private decked garden is available for resale for the first time since this condominium began closings in 2010. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: Best tree-lined Southwest Harlem block. 20 foot wide open living plan, high ceilings. South facing floor to ceiling custom insulated glass allows for light all day long. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: This breathtaking two bedroom, two bath Penthouse home boasts a 21' living room and four outdoor spaces, including a 470 square foot private rooftop cabana. The elongated layout exposed to lovely Southwestern light provides for impressive views reaching beyond Southern Harlem. Every surface and fitting at Eleven Hancock was selected for its refined design and matchless quality. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: The views here are absolutely amazing, and from this mint-condition, spacious two-bedroom, two-bathroom home you will be delighted by the sweeping landscape of the iconic Manhattan Skyline and the treetops of Central Park and Morningside Park. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: ; Timeless Luxury Reimagined for the Modern New Yorker. Your opportunity to own a palatial 9 room, 4-bed, den, 3-bath luxury home with central air conditioning, a rarity in a pre-war cooperative. The immense space comprises an entire wing of The Riviera with 4 exposures and 14 oversized windows. Every aspect was meticulously designed to accord privacy and expansive entertaining; from hand-plastered moldings, 7' tiger oak wainscot, and a carved marble gas fireplace, to full-sized LG washer and vented dryer, 10-fixture master bath, with home automation, audio, and theater system for feature viewing. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: Stay in the City and Have the Perks of the Suburbs. Private Entrance and Outdoor Space with the All the Amenities of a Full-Service Condo. Committed to Staying in the City? This home will put all your safety concerns at ease and more. First of all - it has its own private entrance - in fact, you have your own private stoop! Your solid wood front door opens into your enormous living room with soaring 10+ foot ceilings. There's plenty of room for all of your furniture plus a baby grand piano! The living room flows seamlessly into your large open kitchen and dining area. Sun-filled North facing casement windows look out over your private outdoor space and onto an enormous enclosed landscaped common courtyard complete with a play structure and tons of room to run around. See floor plan and full details here.
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From the Listing: Introducing the immaculate residence 12D at 300 West, a 2,000 square foot double exposure four bedroom, three bathroom, offering extensive living/dining space that boasts custom White Oak herringbone flooring, central heating and air conditioning, and insulated oversized windows. The custom kitchen designed by Paris Forino is complete with White Oak cabinetry and Carrara marble countertops and backsplash. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: A true one of a kind offering perched directly across Central Park and right by the Conservatory Gardens. At over 2300 Sq Ft, this sprawling, sun-splashed Pre-War Condo residence boasts ~12 feet ceilings, a private terrace, Central Park views, and so much more. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: Prime Hamilton Heights, a real beauty. Spacious on all 4 stories, owner occupied, and delivered vacant. And, due to a tax abatement - ZERO property taxes until 2036. Amazing. Fantastic owner's three floor unit with a deck that leads to the garden. Three bedrooms and a rec room in the finished cellar. Upstairs, two spacious 2 bedroom units. This property has large south facing bay windows on every floor. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: Penthouse B at 10 Lenox is the perfect home for how we live today, encompassing 1,748 interior square feet, plus a glorious 760-square-foot wrap-around terrace. The spacious living room and secluded master bedroom offer commanding views of Central Park and have direct access to the terrace. The home boasts two additional bedrooms, two full baths, plus a chic powder room, and a gracious entry foyer with a large custom niche, perfect for dropping off shoes, and masks. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: Sun-filled Glamour on Fifth Avenue! Apartment 15AB at 1215 Fifth Avenue is a stunning, meticulously renovated, sunny duplex with a loft-like, modern layout. The apartment has three bedrooms (two large master bedrooms and one smaller bedroom), three and one-half bathrooms and includes Carrara marble and custom designed tiling in master bathroom; Robern mirrors with light and inside power outlets/fog diffuser; a chef's dream custom Italian kitchen with state-of-the-art appliances and Carrara marble counter top/back splash; under counter hot/cold water filter. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: Introducing unit PHB at 99 Morningside Ave, a 4 bedroom 2.5 bath home offering 2411 interior square feet and 581 square feet of outdoor space occupying the entire eleventh floor! This home feels luxurious the moment the elevator doors open into your living space. Your eye will be torn between the beautiful finishing inside the home and the expansive and sweeping Harlem and Midtown views to the south. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: This charming five story brownstone situated in Hamilton Heights is truly a one of a kind single-family home. Each floor features unique period details that are truly a work of art. With approximately 4,471 square feet, this home has five bedrooms and five bathrooms. Bring your contractor and turn this mansion into the home of your dreams! See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: Introducing 145 Central Park North, a luxury-defining condominium where residents enjoy the city's most famous park as it unfurls before them. Boasting high-end finishes and tantalizing views of Central Park, this 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom penthouse is a portrait of contemporary city grandeur. Features of this 1,757 sq. ft. apartment include beautiful white oak floors, floor-to-ceiling windows with white oak frames and motorized shades, a fireplace, an HVAC VRF system, a Wi-Fi enabled thermostat, a vented Electrolux washer/dryer, a spacious balcony, and a private rooftop terrace with decadent park views with an outdoor utility sink and jacuzzi. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: This one of a kind, majestic, single-family townhouse has been renovated and decorated to perfection. All of the elegance and grandeur of the original details have been restored and further enhanced by incorporating the modern comforts of today's lifestyle. Built in 1920, this Italianate-style, 19 foot wide home, underwent a high-end, gut renovation in 2008, where no expense was spared. The current owners improved the home even further by restoring the facade and the original hand-carved, wooden, entry doors. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: PH2A at Circa Central Park, 285 West 110th St, is a one of a kind five-bedroom, four and a half bath Penthouse boasting 2,771 square feet of interior space and a 550 square foot private terrace overlooking Central Park. Enter into an expansive living/dining room area with unobstructed park views, a perfect place for entertaining. See floor plan and full details here.

From the Listing: This sun-flooded five bedroom condominium apartment enjoys spectacular sweeping views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline from the 16th floor. Featuring a triple mint renovation and an elegant floor plan, the 3,623 SF apartment is absolute perfection. See floor plan and full details here.

Would you like to tour any of these properties?
Just complete the info below.
  1. Select which properties are of interest to you:

Or call us at (212) 755-5544
Would you like to tour any of these properties?
Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.